Brooklyn’s Fifth Avenue was a ghost town all spring, erupted with the Black Lives Matter protests in early summer, and has now been transformed into a bustling outdoor dining room as restaurants and bars spill into the city. Street.
The evolution is a relief for residents and businesses. But it forced many homeowners to scramble for money to build outdoor decks, buy inventory, and rehire workers. For the many black, Hispanic and immigrant-owned businesses in the Park Slope neighborhood, this meant tapping into informal networks of friends and family across the globe to bring in cash that other businesses could have borrowed. from banks.
Rafael Aranda opened Sole Mio in February, only to close it a month later. Money is tight, so he turned to Ruben Santos, whom he has known since they grew up together in Puebla, Mexico for help. Mr. Santos, who is an investor in the Italian restaurant, owns a construction company in Long Island. He showed up with a crew and supplies and built a sidewalk patio in about two days. Sole Mio has since reopened.
“We will stay here no matter what,” Mr. Aranda said.
It has taken on special significance on Fifth Avenue, which begins at the Barclays Center and is where some of the city’s biggest Black Lives Matter gatherings have taken place. During the pandemic, the search for capital took on global dimensions, reflecting the diversity of small business owners, who come from almost every continent.
Those who cannot get help often fail. There have been 21 closures on Fifth Avenue of the roughly 500 businesses along a 20-block stretch of street the Wall Street Journal has been following since March.
The Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District is trying to help businesses secure government bailout funds and connect with established lenders, said Mark Caserta, the group’s executive director. “Once we exhausted all of that, they went back to their own networks,” he said.
Gary Casimir and his partners in BK9, a Caribbean restaurant that previously had a thriving business the coronavirus, have his mother to thank for their survival. The nine friends who opened the restaurant were all first and second generation Caribbean immigrants who had worked together in restaurants when they attended nearby university three decades ago.
They couldn’t get bank loans when they opened BK9 five years ago, even though they all had professional jobs and had restaurant experience. “There was no funding, it was mainly my savings,” said Mr. Casimir, a product liability lawyer in Manhattan. “It was slow at first, but we built a niche place focused on the community. “
Marie Thérèse Casimir made BK9 possible. Mr. Casimir’s mother came to the United States as a Haitian orphan in the 1960s, working as a seamstress, housekeeper and caregiver. Her real talent, however: was spotting large real estate investments: Ms. Casimir bought six buildings in Brooklyn, including the one that now houses BK9, seeing opportunities where others haven’t. “She believed in the neighborhood,” said Casimir, who bought the building from her 10 years ago.
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Ms Casimir died in June of causes unrelated to Covid. “The good thing for us at least is that I can waive the rent,” Casimir said. Yet the partners shelled out $ 5,000 for their outdoor seating area and built it themselves, enlisting a partner’s cousin, a carpenter, to help. Sales have improved with BK9 no longer relying solely on the takeout business it built up at the start of the epidemic, but BK9 is still not breaking even, Casimir said.
Many black business owners on the streets have no family or friends to turn to. Six years ago, Pamela Brown and her husband, Christopher, opened Align Brooklyn, which combined her chiropractic practice with a yoga and Pilates studio. The business remains closed but would have a better chance of reopening, Ms Brown said, if they could expand to another location with a state-of-the-art ventilation system. But she doubts that a black-owned business can access that kind of capital, especially now.
“What we have is a very successful business. But we don’t have a support system, ”she said. Some entrepreneurs “have a friend of daddy who knows a guy. I do not have access to this kind of network.
Business owners with ties to banks have done better. For Kingsley Sosoo, an immigrant from Nigeria who opened a Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea franchise in 2019, the connection was Andre Djibatche, a
banker from Cameroon. “The first day we met we clicked like we’ve known each other for 10 or 15 years,” Sosoo said.
When Mr. Sosoo was raising money to start Sweetwaters, Wells Fargo helped him get a loan from the Small Business Administration. When the first round of federal small business money ran out, Mr. Djibatché told him not to despair. “He assured me ‘We have you on the radar,’” Mr. Sosoo said. He got second-round funding, as well as help from Wells Fargo to secure a separate SBA loan that allowed him to spend $ 7,000 on a patio.
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Many immigrant-owned businesses on Fifth Avenue cannot go back to their original funding sources as they themselves are battling the global pandemic. Sergei and Elena Potekhin funded the opening of Not Just Chocolate confectionery late last year in part with funds from their successful business, The Chocolatier, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Not Just Chocolate closed in March when Covid-19 hit and could not reopen until the end of June in part due to difficulties in obtaining a special granulated cocoa butter from France or Belgium and two ingredients from Germany that Mr. Potekhin will not reveal because of “professional secrets”. They kept the store going with savings, government bailout money, and help from their owner, who cut their rent by 50% during the crisis.
Mr Potekhin owns the Chocolatier with his sister, but Russia’s struggles with the coronavirus prevent him from seeking help. “Because of the Covid, they are also having very difficult times,” he said.
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